Citizen Action Monitor

Employee ownership offers alternative to unions and a real solution for workers and communities

“This is the future of the world of work”

No 445 Posted by fw, March 27, 2012

“At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, the economic crisis and growing inequality in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities.”

Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work is a new documentary (to be released in July, 2012) that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain. The film couldn’t be timelier as 2012 has been declared the “International Year of the Cooperative” by the U.N. In the following 5:50-minute preview of the film, workers acclaim the significant benefits of worker cooperatives. Read my transcript of the workers’ commentary.

Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work by Mark Dworkin (Photographer/Editor) and Melissa Young (Producer), February 28, 2012.


Equal Exchange, Massachusetts

Male worker — I work here as an employee but I also own one share of the company. I have a say in what happens with the company, which is awesome.

Male worker — We have a stake. We have “skin in the game” as they say. It’s a real business. We have goals to meet. There’s just this environment where we all love what we’re doing, and it’s very meaningful to us, and we all want it to work.

Isthmus Engineering, Wisconsin

Female worker — I have worked at large corporations where there’s a huge hierarchy. It takes a lot of energy to operate in an environment like that. We put our energy toward our projects and out products.

Male worker – Most other companies I couldn’t share in the decision making because wouldn’t have a vote. And at the end of the day if the work I did produced profit I wouldn’t get to share in that because it would be going somewhere else. If I was concerned about what this was doing to the community, if I worked for another business that wouldn’t matter.

Mondragon Cooperatives — Basque Country, Northern Spain —

  • A federation of 120 companies owned and run by their workers.
  • 100,000 employees
  • $25 billion annual sales
  • Lowest unemployment in Spain
  • Cooperative research and development
  • Cooperative university
  • Cooperative bank

White collar worker – Take any businessman elsewhere, and he’ll tell you that the most important thing is to maximize profits. We say that profit is important to sustain the business, but it’s also important to create jobs.

Female worker – We believe that it isn’t good for anybody if somebody loses their job. If you lose your job, you haven’t got money. If you haven’t got money, you can’t buy. If you can’t buy, you can’t buy our product.

Male worker – Income is distributed more equally, and it gets to more people. And that’s why so many people can live pretty well.

Male worker – The business if ours, but we’re also workers. We don’t have a boss like in other companies. We’re all bosses, and we all have to move the business forward.

White collar worker — The great majority of people are more integrated and involved and that’s why we can be more competitive and compete with the best businesses in the world. This is the future of the world of work.

Male worker – In typical corporations, you’re working for somebody else, and at the end of the shift you just go home. This is something different. It’s part of our lives, because we’re involved in running the company from top to bottom.

Female worker – In the end that you have a job is very important. Many times, in regular capitalist companies if there is a slowdown, you’re out in the street. Some coops do better than others, but you still have a job. You can’t get thrown out in the street.

Female worker – I’m in the second generation of a coop family. My sisters and I are members of Fagor. My parents’ generation built the cooperatives. They’ve left us this inheritance and we have to keep working to leave it to our children.

Evergreen Cooperatives – Cleveland, Ohio

Male (worker affiliation unknown) — Companies in this era of capital and job mobility are not really anchored in place. They’re not really loyal to the communities in which they reside. And so as companies come and go from our communities, it kind of rips the economic underpinnings

Female (worker affiliation unknown) — People losing their homes. The foreclosure crisis here has just been devastating. They say if you keep doing the same old thing you get the same results. And people are looking for results right now that are going to make a difference in people’s lives.

Female (worker affiliation unknown) – We give incentives to businesses and they come into a town and they say “well, we’re going to move here.” And we give them some money ten years when the incentive’s over they say “Well what town should we move to next?”

Evergreen Cooperative Laundry

Female worker – This was a unique idea – that people would own the business so the business can’t pick up and move unless every single person who worked there said: “Yeah, we’ll move to Florida.”

Female worker – Oh yeah. I work this machine. That machine – I’ll be all over the place. (Laughs). Everybody runs everything so we kind of rotate and move around, Yeah. You have to.

Male worker – We own this place. That’s an excellent reason to go to work. It’s like with a house – if you rent it, not so much but if you own it, that’s a big deal.

Ohio Cooperative Solar

Male worker – This is a business and we’re a coop. we all have to have a strong mentality that what Evergreen and Ohio Solar’s trying to do is going to work for us and our community.


  • “I think an America beyond capitalism is a real possibility” — Gar AlperovitzGar Alperovitz argues in an op-ed in today’s New York Times that we may be in the midst of a profound transition toward an economy characterized by more democratic structures of ownership. Alperovitz finds that 130 million Americans are members of some kind of cooperative, and 13 million Americans work in an employee-owned company.
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